Can Korean thistle protect the liver? The 4 major effects and side effects of Korean thistle.

Artichoke, though its name may suggest it comes from Korea, actually originates from the Mediterranean region. This plant belongs to the Asteraceae family and has a history of being used as both food and a medicinal plant dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Current research has also shown that artichoke has a positive protective effect on the liver. Even though the edible parts of artichoke constitute less than 30% of the entire plant, primarily found in the receptacle at the base of the flower and the tender bracts, the non-edible parts, such as the outer bracts and stems, also contain rich bioactive compounds. After extraction, these compounds can be used in food additives or dietary supplements, offering significant benefits.

The Nutritional and Effective Components of Korean Thistle

Korean Thistle possesses characteristics of low fat, high fiber, and contains some water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin B complex and vitamin C, as well as mineral components. However, according to current research, the physiological functions of Korean Thistle are closely related to its content of phenolic compounds and water-soluble dietary fiber, such as inulin.

In Korean Thistle, the most extensively studied phenolic compounds are caffeoylquinic acid and flavonoids[1].

Caffeoylquinic acid is a large group of plant secondary metabolites formed by the esterification of caffeic acid and quinic acid. Depending on the quantity of caffeic acid and the position at which quinic acid is esterified, different molecular structures can be obtained.
The two most popular caffeoylquinic acids in Korean Thistle are chlorogenic acid and cynarin.[2]

The Benefits of Korean Thistle

Korean Thistle is believed to have choleretic, hepatoprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and diuretic properties. In folk medicine, it is also used to improve conditions such as liver diseases, jaundice, ascites, indigestion, and postoperative anemia. However, which of these effects have been scientifically substantiated?

To Protect the Liver

The chlorogenic acid, cynarin, and silymarin found in Korean Thistle may potentially protect the liver by increasing the activity of antioxidant enzymes, inhibiting lipid peroxidation, and reducing the gene expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thereby preventing liver damage and lowering the liver inflammation index.

💡 In a human trial, 143 patients with mild to severe hypercholesterolemia were divided into a Korean Thistle group (daily supplementation of 1800 mg of Korean Thistle extract) and a control group. The experiment lasted for 6 weeks, and the group supplemented with Korean Thistle effectively reduced the liver inflammation index AST and ALT. [3]

💡 In an 8-week human trial, non-alcoholic hepatitis patients were given 2700 mg of Korean Thistle extract daily, and it was found to improve their liver inflammation index compared to the control group. [4]

💡 In a study involving patients with type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, it was observed that the experimental group receiving 300 mg of Korean Thistle extract (for 16 weeks) effectively reduced ALT and AST values. [5]

💡 Human trials demonstrated that daily administration of 600 mg of Korean Thistle extract to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease patients for 8 weeks not only lowered liver inflammation markers AST/ALT but also improved the liver fibrosis index (APRI). Ultrasound imaging data even showed an increase in hepatic blood flow, a reduction in liver size, and a decrease in portal vein diameter. [6]

Lowering Cholesterol

The silymarin in Korean Thistle may reduce cholesterol levels by inhibiting key enzymes involved in cholesterol synthesis or by regulating the activity of lipid-related transcription factors. Additionally, Korean Thistle is rich in water-soluble dietary fiber, which can bind with bile acids and accelerate their excretion. This leads to the need for cholesterol to replenish the lost bile acids, resulting in a cholesterol-lowering effect.

💡 In a retrospective article, the comprehensive analysis suggests that for both diastolic and systolic blood pressure, the most significant lowering effect is observed when the Korean Thistle dosage is ≤ 500 mg, and supplementation continues for more than 8 weeks. [8]

Improving Digestive Issues

After consuming Korean Thistle extract, it increases the secretion of bile and stimulates the release of bile into the duodenum, which helps alleviate or improve symptoms caused by digestive problems such as upper abdominal pain, heartburn, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

💡 In a study, 553 participants who supplemented with Korean Thistle extract continuously for 6 weeks showed a significant improvement in the severity of digestive issues, with nearly 80% of patients responding positively. [9]

Suitable Candidates for Korean Thistle Supplementation

Korean Thistle is a natural food that can generally be used as part of daily health maintenance by normal adults. The following groups can consider using Korean Thistle for enhanced well-being…

  1. For individuals with a high-fat diet: Korean Thistle extract has been found to improve lipid abnormalities and can alleviate or eliminate symptoms of digestive issues in human experiments.
  2. For those with a drinking habit: Supplementing with Korean Thistle can help maintain liver health.
  3. For middle-aged and elderly individuals: Those with poor metabolism or obesity are at an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to permanent liver damage. Supplementing with Korean Thistle can reduce liver inflammation index and prevent the continuous deterioration of liver function.
  4. For individuals with high blood pressure: Supplementing with Korean Thistle can help stabilize blood pressure.

Are there any side effects to supplementing with Korean Thistle?

For the majority of people, Korean Thistle is considered safe. However, in a survey of individuals who participated in research, about 1.3% reported experiencing minor side effects such as bloating, weakness, and increased hunger after using Korean Thistle extract. [9]

Korean Thistle belongs to the Asteraceae family, and individuals with a history of allergies to this plant family should exercise caution.

Korean Thistle has a bile-stimulating effect, so individuals with a history of bile duct blockage or gallbladder-related issues should avoid its use. If you are taking cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, Korean Thistle may interact with the medication, so it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before use.

In modern society, metabolic abnormalities are on the rise due to dietary habits, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, and lifestyle factors, leading to an increasing prevalence of fatty liver. It is estimated that nearly 1/4 of the global population is affected by fatty liver issues. Maintaining a balanced diet, regular sleep patterns, consistent exercise, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight are the fundamental principles to prevent fatty liver. In addition to these measures, considering the supplementation of Korean Thistle, which has been scientifically validated for its hepatoprotective effects, can open a new chapter in our colorful lives.

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